Another day, another twin stick. With a difference, this time!
For too long, we’ve seen the same old, same old. We need more twin sticks like NeuroVoider, and no, I won’t stop shilling NeuroVoider! We need more infusions of the bullet-hell genre, and in fact, we need more infusions of eastern influences, period. Thank the man in the sky Bernie Mac then, that games like Assault Android Cactus have arrived on the scene, ready to cleanse your pallet with their attempt at giving you waifus.
Today’s topic of discussion comes from Witch Beam, an Australian company composed of former developers from Sega Studios Australia. Tired of losing wars to emus, Tim Dawson, Sanatana Mishra and Jeff van Dyck left Sega for the promising premises in indie game development, and have seen fit to release Assault Android as their debut title. Maybe some form of backing from Sega might have helped because as it stands, Assault Android is as rough as rough gets.
You start your journey as Cactus, a green-haired android on a police team dedicated to stop nasty happenings, or something. The game chronicles one such incident, with a space freighter going AWOL, and upon further inspection, Cactus discovers the ship under rule by the once docile and friendly robots. With her new squad (plus 4 more, if you bother to play), they’re committed to stopping this menace, whoever they are.
You can count the amount of ideas Assault Android has on one hand, with a few fingers cut off. Not that it’s a bad thing, for the game has a much larger goal: to successfully meld the genres of twin-stick and bullet hell together, without making it feel overbearing. Does it succeed? Well, just about, and that’s better than nothing, in my books.
The first impressions were superb, you had some moderately funny writing, some decent character design even though it was heavily reminiscent of the female characters in Metal Slug, and the combat was amazing. Beginning battles were frantic and explosive, the music added a sense of bouncy fun to it, and with your 4 android comrades, the play styles seemed almost endless.
The gimmick of this particular twin stick however, is the use of a battery system. With Witch Beam knowing that you’re going to die, a lot, it seems only fair that they’d use a system that requires you to collect regular pickups in order to avoid a full-on game over. It’s a fantastic spin on the lives system, and it manages to be a fair mechanic, without being an overbearing annoyance.
With the 4 starting characters, Witch Beam open up an encyclopaedia of tactical madness, with enemies always calling for different ways of disposal. Cactus is your usual dullard, with a flamethrower primarily used for the small fry enemies. The nerd Holly is more methodical, using precise and efficient ways of lethality, like a lock-on primary and a GOD-DAMN cannonball. The peppy Lemon is more gung-ho, using a spread-shot that can fill the room with bullets, and Coral, a no-nonsense type who is a bit slower to the approach with a sluggish, but deadly shotgun.
Beyond that is a few more fun challenge characters with more outlandish ways of defeating these mechanical menaces, and some magnificent level design. These arenas are superb and always manage to mix things up with just how you approach them. Some highlights include the ever-changing Repeater, whose battlefield constantly transforms into gank lanes and choke points, and Transit, which manages to make a first-rate, almost cinematic experience out of the entire ordeal.
Witch Beam have laid a beautiful blueprint here, and the problem is that they didn’t know how to face the issues with glazing over them with a sense of flair. The main problem is the 3 words of death, “Made with Unity”, and no, I’m not one of those “uhhhhhhh there haz nevur bean a gud gaem in unity” people, but it affects the whole experience, mostly in the visual design.
Despite Cactus and her new band of android hooligans being brightly distinct, they don’t help the rest of the game escape this flat sensation of gaming in purgatory, with all of the arenas feeling like lifeless rooms, despite Witch Beam turning them into some pretty neat set pieces sometimes. Personally though, I don’t mind that. The main issue is that holy gumballs-in-an-anus, some of these bosses are ridiculous.
Not ridiculous in a sense of scale, but the difficulty of these guys is based on luck rather than skill, most of the time. There’s only five of them, including one mini boss, and only two of them are worthy of praise. The other three main bosses, have the design of a Super Mario Maker level, filled with unbeatable hazards and created by a player trying to cheat the unlock system, with a ludicrous barrage of bullets no sane man could pull off.
Alright, admittedly you can beat these bosses without getting your panties twisted with blue bullets, but that depends on just how lucky you are with the temporary power-ups that drop every so often. They come in 3 flavors, Firepower, Speed and Shutdown, with Speed being the only useful one and if it doesn’t drop immediately, then you have to dodge bullets until the power-up eventually changes to Speed. It ain’t fun.
It’s not even that much of a marvel to look at due to the aforementioned boredom seeping from the environments. Even when the bullets provides a spectacle of light, it doesn’t hold a candle to stuff like Ray’n from DoDonpachi Resurrection, Tyrannosatan from Deathsmiles, and Ayame & Ran from Akai Katana… okay, yeah, these are all from the same developer, Cave, but what do you expect? They’re the benchmark.
Also, it may be longer than the Cave counterparts I’ve mentioned, but that lingering doesn’t last long, as after a good two or three hours, your adventure ends, with a lazy boss fight which just uses boss phases from the previous bosse- Come on, Witch Beam, that’s a cop out and a half, you know that. After all of that, the rest of the offerings are a bit shallow, with an infinite wave mode, and a daily challenge mode of sorts.
Apart from a few visual filters that make the game practically unplayable, there’s not much else. So now you’re left with the all-important question of whether Assault Android is worth $15. Let’s break it down to an easier outlook; is Assault Android fun? Yes, an almost illegal amount of fun, but it makes severe missteps near the end, and the journey ends before you can even appreciate what happens.
So close, yet so far.